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CHICAGO -- The Chicago White Sox officially announced the $68 million acquisition of Cuban first baseman Jose Abreu on Tuesday, confident that the bold investment on an unknown quantity will pay healthy dividends.
In terms of total money, Abreu's six-year deal is the largest in White Sox history. The 26-year-old will receive a $10 million signing bonus and earn $7 million in 2014 and 2015, $10 million in 2016, $10.5 million in 2017, $11.5 million in 2018 and $12 million in 2019.
The right-handed slugger batted .316 with 19 home runs and 60 RBIs over 83 games this past season in the Cuban professional league, while posting a .479 on-base percentage and a .604 slugging percentage. Including postseason appearances, he has batted .392 over the past four seasons with 133 home runs, 337 RBIs, 311 runs and 278 walks.
|GM Rick Hahn and the White Sox introduced Cuban slugger Jose Abreu at a news conference Tuesday.|
The White Sox believe those types of numbers will translate into production in the American League.
"I was talking about [the risk] with a GM of another club and he pointed out every free-agent deal has a risk and comes with potential for down side," White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said. "You can choose to sit and do nothing, which is the safest route, or aggressively address need.
"For players who haven't played in the states, it's a calculated risk, but one we had to take. If we are going to get this thing right, and get it done as quickly as we want it done, we are going to have to be bold and be aggressive."
That bold and aggressive move would seem to signal the end of Paul Konerko's time on the South Side. The veteran first baseman became a free agent at the end of the season, but the White Sox claim they remain interested in bringing back their team captain.
"This signing does not preclude us from bringing Paul back," Hahn said. "I spoke with Paul in September specifically about Jose, and when deal was consummated, he was the first call I made. We will continue in same vein, to keep confidential and open dialogue in not too distant future and figure out what he wants going forward."
Abreu may or may not know what Konerko means to White Sox fans, but he certainly knows about some parts of club history, especially its connection to Cuban-born players. Going back to Minnie Minoso, who was on hand for Tuesday's news conference, Abreu becomes the 17th player in team history to hail from Cuba. Abreu will join Cuban natives Alexei Ramirez and Dayan Viciedo on the current roster.
"I have to give a lot of thanks to the Cuban players who are playing for the White Sox who created this atmosphere where I feel comfortable coming here," Abreu said through an interpreter. "Having spoken with them about the White Sox, about the organization, it makes things easier and made the decision easier. I'm thankful for them for giving me that perspective."
Wearing a gray suit with a purple tie, Abreu was modest yet engaging in his introductory news conference, seemingly the polar opposite of the brash and bold Yasiel Puig, another Cuba native who took the major leagues by storm this past season with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The production from players like Puig and fellow Cuban native Yoenis Cespedes with the Oakland Athletics paved the way for Abreu's deal. But the new White Sox middle-of-the-order threat was looking at the big picture for the reasons he is now an MLB newcomer.
"It isn't just players like them who have had success recently," Abreu said. "There have been a generation of players from Cuba that have inspired me and have showed me that if I work hard I can have success in the big leagues here. I have the greatest gratitude for them having served as that inspiration and having shown me I can have success in the big leagues. It isn't just the two of them recently, but the whole generation of players."
Abreu, who will wear No. 79 just as he did in Cuba, will be expected to produce for the major league team immediately and not spend time in the minors, as Puig did briefly with the Dodgers. The White Sox, though, are trying not to saddle him with heavy expectations.
"I didn't draw out a statistical line or wins above replacement that I expect him to hit in his first year," Hahn said. "There's going to be an adjustment period. There's going to be him getting used to the daily grind of a major league season, the travel in the states and the games every day for six-plus months. I just want to see him have the ability to maintain physically where he needs to be and mentally where he needs to be and then let the talent take over."
Playing with Ramirez and Viciedo should help the transition, and it's one of the reasons he was interested in joining the White Sox in the first place.
"I know there were other teams interested, but the support I would have from Cuban players like Alexei and Dayan, and the fact that from the beginning the White Sox were interested and showed interest, once the final decision came down to where it's going to be, it was the White Sox," Abreu said. "It was pretty simple for me to say that the support and them being interested, it showed I wanted to be with the White Sox."